tv Q A CSPAN December 28, 2009 6:00am-7:00am EST
is as one of the 50 most people to what cyberspace. >> omar wasow, about 10 years ago, i interviewed someone and he asked where i was going next. he said to come on and i will buy you a subway ticket. i must have looked like i needed money. we were sitting there and this woman comes up to him, and says, "i am omar wasow's mother." they want to talk about you and his class. >> i had the real privilege in high school>> i was taking creative writing with frank mccord and he made anhe wrote one of my college recommendations. to this day, i think about what he said in that class. there were stories of him going
into bars and being a theatrical character. teacher. telling stories and engaging us in unexpected ways. >> can you remember something you learned about writing? writing. he would ask us what the capital city of albania was. he would say that we would not pay attention to him. nobody cares about what he wants. on the second to last day, i looked up what the capitalwdç cy was and to this day i know it. he was always jousting with the class and teasing us. in terms of creative writing, one of the things that was at
the heart of what he wanted for his students was for them to find their own voice. he was very supportive without having a conventional, creative writing approach. which is to say that you had to have the protagonist and antagonist. it was more like, tell us something that moved you. i remember that the things that i submitted -- he was a very supportive teacher. it was a privilege to have him. >> on the other side of that meeting, your mother. you come from a german/jewish mother. parents and i look very carefully and these had potential. my parents are not particularly
unusual, but what has been a privilege, in a way. what is less significant is being the child of the civil-rights movement. being a child that was born during this great transformation of america. when they got married in 1968, and next month it will be 41 years, what is powerful for me is that i feel like i am a part of a piece of history and have this real obligation or debt to live up to the ideas of my mother and my father and my grandparents, who i see as freedom fighters.
my grandfather had to flee germany. as did my grandmother. they undertook great risks to help themselves and family members. my grandparents and my mother's side growing up in texas and later in washington state and seattle -- they were in integrated neighborhoods and underwent all sorts of discrimination. i feel like i carried this this way. -- carry that fight for it. that is the most powerful part of what their union symbolically means to me. >> what is your father doing? >> my father was a professor and is in semi-retirement. he works with aid projects. he spends a lot of time playing
solitaire on the computer. he travels in mexico. my mom has been an educator, working with five and six year- olds. -- she works in a buyer -- early childhood education. she went on to become a dean. she is helping to grow a ñ and she is about o retire. my dad is very excited because he will have a travel partner. >> we have seen you in many different settings, including when you had dreadlocks and you weighed more. we will go back to some of that. what are you doing today? >> i am a graduate student. i do some consulting, going back to thei am pursuing a ph.d.. i used to work in.
buy you a subway ticket. what are you doing today? >> i am a graduate student. year-and-a-half with a ph.d. in political science. >> why did you want to do that? >> i had spent a dozen years in the internet industry and i continue to be fascinated with social media, but i saw that things that i was interested in, education and criminal justice issues, were not going to be understood. how do we help reduce the amount of crime and incarceration in this country? going back to school has been a real gift for me to go deep on those topics. >> when did you start at harvard? >> 4 and 1/2 years ago. i am a very humble graduate student.
i am required to take statistics classes. these are kids that have been doing calculus up until a year ago and i had not done it in 20 years. luckily, i found the wherewithal to turn in those papers and keep going. it has been a wonderful experience overall. >> probably, you were the most visible on the oprah show. what year did you do the 12 lessons on how to use the internet? with oprah was in 1999 or early 2000.
to this day, that is one of the things that i am remembered most for. that was an experience as well. there are all these moments -- she was skeptical about the 12 parts and she did not really want it at first. by the end of it, as we were breaking down the sets, she had a conversion experience. >> how did it happen? >> i had been doing television reporting. as an on-air gadget guru, i was just going to have a bit role in the 12 part show.
oprah took a bit of a shining to me and included me in almost all of the episodes. >> i see that you are writing about the obama presidential race and the internet. did you work for the campaign? if you did not, why not? >>i did not work for the campaign. i felt that we had some personal comparisons. his father is from kenya and my father is from kenya. more significantly, there is a generational sense that he could be a peer.
harford also, -- harvard also, so there are all sorts of things that are arbitrary and sort of substantive that gave us -- it gave me a strong connection to him. i come from a mixed race and he it feels like he could be a peer. he has a funny first name. there are all sorts of things that are arbitrary and substantive that gave me a strong connection to him. of my high school. i thought i would go on and run for office. i care deeply about politics and i had the privilege to work with bill gray. when i was in college, i interned with him. one of the things that i took away is that i did not want to work in politics. it was too far removed from what i wanted to do.
why didn't i work for obama? the way i could make a contribution in the world is to instill issues into a more could take action. >> you were at stanford when you worked with bill gray as an intern. what did you learn the most at that juncture? that stood out. i saw a speech by a person who was winning -- this is not in reference to bill gray, but it deals with politics. a candidate came and spoke to our dorm. you could tell that this speech had been said so many times that the life had been beaten out of it. i thought that i did not want to be in a career were the things i care about most deeply have the life beaten out of them.
i want to cherish the work a little more. it seems subtle. i work for bill gray for 30 weeks. bill gray had two offices and i was in the philadelphia office. after 13 weeks, we got to go across to the leadership office and meet him. this was exciting. we finally got to meet him. i had not met him after three months of working for him. we got ushered into the office and they took a photo and we shook his hand and they ushered us out. it was maybe two minutes tops. it was an astonishing experience. this is what our means in the world. as an intern, i have very little power and very little status and was given very little regard. that felt like a world i did not
want to commit my life to. >> what year did you get out of stanford? >> 1992. >> a degree in what? >> race and ethnic relations. i wanted to figure out how race played a role in the world. >> i figure 39 or 40 right now? >> 38. :gu>> how does this world look o you? thing? >> yes. the future of this country -- >> one of the things that is most exciting about the obama victory is that, historically, when there have been major successes as it relates to racial equality, they happened in very strange political times. you were talking about the civil war and the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement which had some of its
biggest victories in the wake of the assassination of john f. kennedy. is not normal politics. it is strange politics. what is very encouraging to me about what has happened in the last few years is that obama majority. it was not -- he did not win because he was a third-party candidate. it was a very broad coalition that came together. as much as i was enthusiastic about his candidacy, i was very skeptical about his ability to win because i doubted the capacity of this country to make that kind of coalition. one thing that gives me great optimism about the way the country is going is that there is proof that people are willing to build multiracial coalitions as a function of normal politics.
it does not have to be something that follows from something extreme like an assassination. >> politicians are looking at the future, saying that my grandchildren will not have any of this because we are in deep financial trouble. how does somebody your age look at it? >> at the same time that i am encouraged, i am nervous about the growth of the federal government. i come from being an entrepreneur and i have an enthusiasm about the power of markets and entrepeneurs to reinvent the future and i look at the commitments at the federal level, i get very nervous about the future of this country as it relates to having a sustainable society that we have come to expect a lot of benefits and none of the cost from.
that is obviously not sustainable given the debt. i also have great optimism for the kind of reform movements that happened on the side of -- i think that one of the things that i hope -- in my mind, there is this huge majority in the middle that is socially liberal and fiscally conservative. if that kind of voting center is able to exert more influence, then it would work as a check on some of the social conservative extremism around demonizing gays and lesbians and worked as a check on the massive expansion of government. >> something called blackplanet.com sold for $38 million. does that make you a rich man?
>> it does not make me rich man. by the time that we had had sold it, my share was very small. it has an owner that is very committed to growing it. i am so glad that it had a happy ending. it is still getting about 5 million visitors a month. >> why did you leave? >> it comes back to the question that you asked earlier. i have been working in social media and social networking for nearly a dozen years and a lot of the questions about business and opportunities, to figure out how entrepeneurship changes the world.
they were less pressing to me. why is there -- what have we seen an eight-fold increase in incarceration in the last few years. going back to school, that was a way to to ask new questions. >> the brooklyn charter school. why did you get involved in that and what year did you get involved and is it still there? >> i am the child of two educators. a teacher. my grandfather turned to me and said that you do not need a high business. i had violated the family business. i continue to love entepeneurship, but starting a charter school has been a kind of penance to the educators in my family.
i am still connected to this family trade of education. 9 of entrepeneurship and education. >> how did you do it? >> i initially was involved with a group that was lobbying for a charter bill and the state. -- in new york state. that got passed in 1997. friends to start a charter school. i got rejected twice. in the third go round, in 2000, we got approved, which was thrilling. we took an extra year to get the foundation right. september 11 happened in 2001. there were suggestions that they
should freeze all new charters because of budget constraints. it was a long road. we opened in 2002. it was a kindergarten through 8th grade charter school. that allowed us to bring in real experts who had done it a lot. it was very much a partnership. i was the founding president of the board. of the big challenges of the charter school. a building and we had gotten a principal. then our principal fell through and the building fell through. coaster ride.
it has been a real roller- coaster ride. i am proud to say that 27% of our students were proficient in math. now 95% are. >> what are you doing? >> a friend of mine says that it is not one 100% solution, it is 100 1% solutions. it is making sure that when anybody is not -- if anyone on it is making a significant investment in teacher training. the team does not share the mission that we are going to make our kids work hard, but give them a lot of support, those -- if you do not support that vision, you will not be on board for long. >> how many teachers? >> it is 650 kids and i believe
it is a staff now of 30 total. >> what do you not have to follow that every other school follow? public school. we have to follow the mainstream laws that you would expect. we are ada compliant. anybody on the basis of race. we were subject to a lot of rules and regulations. we have to take the same tests. the main tradeoff that a charter school makes is that we give up -- we will be held more accountable. meet those, we get closed. in exchange for that,we get more freedom to set the school year. and firing. quythat reduced red tape gives s a lot of room to create decorum
on the staff and make sure that we can invest in a curriculum that we like and that is different from what the state wants. we can do all of that as long as the kids do well. >> can the teachers belong to a union? >> they can. the law does not specify. at our school, they are not unionized. almost all of our teachers are certified, but we're given some latitude to have teachers that are not certified. the real difference is not so much in unionization, but rather can we let teachers go when they are not performing. can we let a principal go if he or she does not share our vision? we make sure that everyone is held accountable.
>> do you stay away from tenure? >> there is not a formal tenure policy. like most jobs,if you do your job well, you are encouraged to come back. if you do not do your job well, it is not serving the kids. >> tell us what a day is like for you and the internet. when do you first get on it? >> a day like today is typical. i wake up and reach for my cellphone and pull the e-mail down on my cell phone. >> what kind of cell phone? >> i use an old trio and i have been playing with an iphone, which i have enjoyed a lot. both have their strengths. i read e-mail first in the morning. >> i will see what has come in
and wait until i get to my laptop to respond. >> where is your laptop? >> it is in the living room and it is also -- i obviously have a wireless network and i check the news and respond to e-mail before i brush my teeth or have breakfast. i can go an hour or two but in the car -- in front of the computer before it starts today. >> what is likely to be happening in your world that you have to get on the computer? >> i lead a funny life. my primary job is getting a ph.d. i associate with my old company and i do some media work. "the today show," "oprah," and occasionally i will have a bunch of emails about producing a segment.
i do a lot of public speaking and i am grateful for these opportunities to speak to library associations. >> do you make a part of your living from speaking? >> yes. >> who pays? >> it is crazy that anybody would pay. i think i find it remarkable. i mentioned library associations. they are an example of groups that are looking for someone who has experience with the internet, social media, and can talk about how the internet is transforming our businesses and industries. it is a lot of professional associations or industry associations that are curious about the way the internet is transforming their work. >> specifically, when you are up in the morning, where do you go
for your news? >> i am a "new york times" junkie. look. i am a fan of news.google. i have a bunch of keywords so that i can track certain people or companies and trends. a couple of other sites i am fond of is "talking points memo." my adviser has a site calledi should say that i do some work for the "washington post." more broadly, and scanning lots which covers african-american issues. of different news sites throughout the day, but not with any particular kind of structure. "huffington post."
>> do you go to somebody on the other side politically? >>there is a site that i like that is called thenextright.com. i am guessing people in their '30's and '40's are simultaneously very committed to republicans, but i am actually politically moderate. there is a lot of overlap with folks like that. where i get lost with some of the republican rhetoric is around divisive stories. nygoing back to the election, what was most alienating in the election were these moments where people were talking about
real americans. specifically sarah palin. i think of myself as being born in kenya, a name that may not show a lot in alaska, and i wonder if she is talking about denying me my american citizenship. when people talk in those kinds of terms, it is almost a declaration of war. that is very provocative and i find it to be a challenge. they have a more inclusive idea of what it means. they are still committed to ideas that i find very compelling. >> the name omar wasow, is there
a middle name? >> tomas, yeah. >> explain how that can about. >>they saw that this was a name that showed up over the world. it was international and it had a local appeal in kenya. my uncle was thomas wasow. wasow could be confusing. my grandfather was adopted. my father's father was adopted by a wasow, so wasow is an adopted name.
to the internet -- >> what kind of social world to you live in? >> i fell in love with social media, not in the last decade or 15 years, but as a student in junior high, using bulletin board systems where you would take a modem and call another local hobbyist or enthusiast in your area. it was like a small aol. when i came out of college, i became fascinated with this idea that i could create a watering hole online as well. i had 20 phone lines coming into my apartment. people thought that i was running a phone sex operation.
there was not enough room in my apartment for that number of people. >> why did you? >>i had 20 modems that were hooked up to computers so that people could call into my small america online that was called "new york online." this was before the web or the internet. it was a technology that was a little early. as the web took off, all of this social media began to migrate to the web. in the early days of the web, you really could not -- you think about the rhetoric that al gore used. the internet is one to be this injured -- and this information superhighway. my experience had been a bit of a supper club. it was not a set of
encyclopedias. the web was sort of a neutron bomb on the internet because it took away all the people. what people have been doing over the past decade and a half is layering tools and technologies that was not there at the start to bring people back to the internet in the way it had always been, historically. >> give us an example of what your talking about. >>with our first site, it took off like wildfire because we were giving people things like easy instant messaging, easy chat rooms, ways to post profiles of themselves. for a while, you paid $20 a month for that on aol. these were attempts by companies to recreate some of the core experiences that have been there decades ago in these early technologies, but had not
been built into this information management medium of the web. blackplanet.com. >> it is 90% african-american, but it is open to everybody. people come there because they enjoy interacting with other members. >> jump ahead 10 years. what will you be doing? >> i went back to school not just to go deep on these two topics, but to write better and so my fantasy is that i will be writing a lot and teaching and probably be involved in a entrepeneurship.
>> go back to skip gates. he is high profile over the cambridge police incident. >>i was talking to him regularly on that process. i think the most direct impact was that it really was an enormous amount of stress for him, not only because of all the media attention, but i think that he was genuinely frustrated by how he had been treated. following the beer summit, there was -- there was a return to his former self. he is very jovial. people who do not know him would find it hard to understand.
he is an incredibly proper guy. the idea that he was charged with disorderly conduct, a charge that you use when people are rioting. i saw him from going unsettled to a return to his lively self. in an interesting kind of way, even though he has been an incredible supporter of mine in the academy, his work has primarily been on literature and mine is in criminal justice issues. i am thrilled that he has this deep interest in criminal justice issues. not that he did not have it before. it was not central to his work. >> what is your dissertation? >> i am interested in the rates of violence through time. you can have two neighborhoods and one will have a much higher
homicide rate than the other. i am interested in a crime more broadly and its effect on society and race relations. by looking at homicide and violent,you have sort of a proxy for that. take a place like new york, in 1993, there were two and half thousand murders. now, it is about 500 a year. that is a very dramatic drop. trying to understand what led to the spike and the drop is at the heart of what i am trying to understand? >> why does someone study african american studies? >> that is a very good question. what you are seeing broadly in the academy is that there is a real commitment to
interdisciplinary work. to interdisciplinary work. people are blending different fields. what is nice about having disciplines like american studies and history of science, they are things that cross disciplines and allows people to blend. race was a kind of central organizing force. i am not just interested in criminal justice questions. for me, i was interested in multiple methods, using statistics, using political science and history to answer these questions in a common theme of african-american -- sort of race in america.
you can think of any interdisciplinary field as an attempt to mix methods around common topics. >> how does someone studying african-american studies get a national science nomination grant? >> the national science foundation -- i was privileged to get a fellowship. they basically support social science. they support political scientists, economists, anyone who can contribute to the solving of social problems. i am trained as a political scientist and have a master's in government.
as a political scientist, i was granted the national science foundation research fellowship. what you are seeing, and this is a little nerdy, there is this blending of the social sciences. there are tools that economists use that come from sociology. that kind of blending means that people use different tools based on the questions they are asking. the disciplinary boundaries are blurring a lot. what about barack obama as president? >> what impact is this having? >> i have had this conversation multiple times with friends. a good friend of mine has been trying to lose weight for years. he relayed to me that i can be
the company has shown this imposes -- we can raise the bar for ourselves. in a lot of different ways, i have had a conversation. we have a hard conversation between generations. one of my family friends was telling me that she did not want to vote for barack obama because she was afraid that he would get assassinated. for a younger generation, that is unacceptably cautious.
she thought -- she saw martin luther king killed and did not want to see that happening to obama. often and ends beenthere was a broader conversation between generations that he was enforcing. what is the agenda for the black community more broadly. the big thing is what happened to the civil-rights movement. what happened to the black freedom struggle in this country because it kind of dissipated in the 1970's, 1980's, and 1990's. what is interesting about obama's election is it takes you back to the forefront.
where is the agenda for advancing the welfare of black americans today? >> in 1996, we saw the dreadlocks. did you feel differently about the world? >> i had dreads for several years. i started growing them in high school. >> was your own hair? >> yes,basically, it was knotted hair. i had the privilege of having some bosses at msnbc that saw it as a plus. even when i worked for bill gray, that was the first time i thought that i might have to cut my hair.
i went down to my first day of my internship and i thought they would say that i would have to go cut my hair and come back. i was not sure what i would do if they said that. they sent me down to get my id laminated. there are various junctions where it was not considered so radical. it was a part of who i was. they were cool with it. fast forward. i went back to school and after having been in the national spotlight a little bit, i decided i wanted to be anonymous as a graduate student. i also had this idea that you should change your haircut once a decade and that was coming up on two.
i wanted to be very low profile at as a student. >> what would have happened if there had not been an internet in the obama campaign? >> the internet allows candidates who are inspiring on some kind of cause, whether it is ron paul for the libertarian community or others, if you have a message that is compelling, you can take passion and turn that into credibility in the offline world. what howard dean was not able to do was to take that online passion and turn it into offline success. it fueled his campaign and he
would not have gotten as far as he did without the internet. obama was the first candidate to take online passion to raise a significant amount of money on line and turned that into people knocking on doors on the ground and advertisements on tv and house parties. lots and lots of offline organizing and marketing. online, you have niches, and offline, you have a base. obama -- you use that base online to really build a broad coalition. without that the initial base, you cannot win. >> when you were writing about it, you mentioned the fact that 3 million people gave $600 million to barack obama. that is only 1% of the american people.
we see how much money is thrown around today. what do you think about the future candidates. are they going to find it easier to raise that kind of money? >> one of the other interesting things, and you are exactly right, it is a relatively small amount of people that get to campaigns. any candidate that is interested in winning will ask how the camera -- replicate that model -- how they can replicate that model. -- of mobilizing people applied to drive offline success. i don't think we will see the percentage of people donating going from 1%what is great about the internet is it creates a gentle on ramp 50%. for people to become more engaged as citizens and activists. it would have been impossible, before the internet, to have a successful campaign that raised $10,000 chunks.
-- tan dollars chunks. -- tanonline, you can allow people to dollars chunks. give small amounts of money and there are all of these very simple ways to dip your toe in on behalf of the candidate and incrementally get more and more committed. what i think we will see is an enhanced capacity driven by candidates that harness these technologies. go back to your own use for the internet -- >> what innovative things are you doing right now that we do not know about? >> i am really excited about the potential for technology to transform education. i have been very skeptical about this in the past. we spent $60 billion in this country wirings schools and we have very little to show for it. what i have seen that has changed my thinking is a company that developed tutoring software that does a really good
job of helping students understand algebra and difficult math. it helps to understand the specific things you are having difficulty with. for me, i think the most powerful force in education is a fear of avoiding humiliation. most students are thinking about how they will not look stupid in front of that boy or that girl. the power to have to bring in front of a computer, it is self directed, there is no self humiliation. i am in the early stages of working with friends inhow do we do more to help get high quality software to a large audience of people, particularly the poorest
members of our society who may not have access to quality teaching. >> you went to a super high level school. you went to stuyvesant. that was near 9/11. where is the charter school? >> it is in brooklyn. it is in bedford-stuyvesantit is right on the edge of bushwick. it is a beautiful, a working- bedford-stuyvesantclass community. there is a lot that is wonderful there. it has incredibly housing stock and there is a lot that is wonderful there about the community. we found a building -- i think it is 89 years old, but it was just a shell. what i am most proud of is that we took this building and have turned it into a school that is serving people and become a institution in the community. >> what is the racial mix? >> it is 97% black.
>> do you teach there? >> i have only visited, but i have not taught. none of the students have laptops. >> how many computers to you have question marks -- do you have? >>the computer class is almost like having pencil class. you do not go down the hall to use the pencils, they should be integrated into the classroom. our school is not very innovative when it comes to technology. we use computers for testing so that we can do 3 assessments a year so that we can track how kids are doing. we use a lot of technology around and intranet so that teachers can track how their students are doing. we don't do a lot with computer- based curriculum.
that is something there is enormous potential for in many schools. >> how many of those kids have gone to college. >> we only go to eighth grade, but we have not graduated a class that has gotten through high school. all of our kids have gone on too competitive high schools. we are trying to dial back up so that even more kids could have the experience i did. >> when you look back at your school, which to give the most credit to? >> it is sort of a cliche, but i owe an incredible debt to my parents. >> what did they do? >> my parents and my grandparents encouraged me to be curious. i often get asked why we are not teaching kids to use microsoft office. the thing that i have to help
our parents understand is that you do not succeed in this economy might knowing a certain piece of software. it you can succeed by constantly learning. if i went to a museum with my mother, she would ask how you would do this museum differently. even as a 6-year-old, i was thinking about how i might create -- of the role i would play in redoing an exhibit. my grandparents -- my grandfather was not a geek himself, but he was always giving me educational components. i was practicing my * tables on a took a calculated. at the heart of it, my parents were always encouraging me to take pleasure in learning. that propelled me to all these experiences.
>> which teacher in your life stimulated you the most? >> vet is tough. -- that is tough. i have been lucky to have incredible teachers. frank mccord, henry louis gates at harvard, and all of them played a real significant role. i feel an incredible dealt to one teacher that taught me to program. i get into computer shop. my parents saw that i loved programming and they did not get me an atari game machine, they got me this toy computer called a vic-20. you would not use it as a doorstop now. they gave me this sandbox to learn to program.
>> what is the most important social network? >> facebook is far and away the most powerful thing going on right now and social media. it has got less buzzed and torture right now, but there are -- then twitter right now 300 million people using it regularly. >> are you on it? >> i am. i am a heavy user. none of the prior sites -- what they spoke has figured out that those sites did not mail is how to offer something that is useful day in and day out.
the other sides would have people join and in the use would taper off. facebook has figured out how to make it useful in a sustained way. >> when will we call your doctor omar wasow? >> i think my father will be doing that. i have about a year-and-a-half now. i am looking forward to claim my doctorate at the end of 2011. >> thanks a lot for joining us. >> thanks a lot for having me. >> for a dvd copy of this program, call 1-877-662-7726.
for free transcripts or to give us your comments about this program, visit us at cspan.org. q&a programs are also available as c-span podcasts. [captioning performed by national captioning institute] [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2009] >> coming up on "washington journal," we will take your calls and comments. later, a senate hearing looking at proposals for long-term fiscal stability. >> coming up on "washington journal," theup